Pressure was building up from all sides. After a near let-down to Bucknell, fans and critics started having some doubts on the #12 ranked team in the nation. The Wildcats were aware that they haven’t been playing up to par, Jay Wright didn’t need to tell them twice. The intensity and focus in practice needed to reach new heights. Villanova was removed from the comforts of their small on-campus arena and then put under the bright lights of New York. After all, they were facing another ranked team who is famous for what they do best: apply pressure and wreak havoc.
VCU looked like they were going to have their way early in the game. After scoring the first basket of the game, the Rams forced a turnover that they quickly converted into another two points. The Wildcats started to settle in and both teams engaged in a back-and-forth game. Villanova looked to go inside, with JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu leading the way. Pinkston made his presence known in the paint, finishing around the basket and grabbing rebounds along the way. The tandem of Pinkston and Ochefu combined for Villanova’s first ten points in the game. Their perimeter game was ineffective in the early stages of the game. They only shot 1-for-8 from beyond the arc, with Dylan Ennis making the lone three pointer of the first half. However, their inside post game was effective. Pinkston had 13 of his 15 points in the first half alone. VCU had a similar approach on offense, taking it inside while attempting a few shots from long range. Villanova took a small 32-30 lead into the half.
The Wildcats displayed poise early on in the game, breaking down the press with excellent ball movement. In fact, their defense outperformed the Rams’ famous full court press. Villanova only turned the ball over three times, while VCU coughed it up six times. Adjustments needed to be made during the intermission for both teams. Jay Wright wanted to attack the basket more and get the ball inside. Shaka Smart was unhappy with his impenetrable fast-paced defense looking vulnerable.
It appeared that the defensive minded genius got it all figured out. The Rams swarmed all over the floor, applying pressure from all angles. They forced two quick turnovers that helped them put together a six point swing. Villanova called a time out in response to the VCU surge. Now down 36-32, the Wildcats put together an uptempo run that VCU could not keep up with. Darrun Hilliard started it off with an and-one play after finishing the layup through contact. Villanova assembled an astounding 16-0 run that would turn the tide of the game. The run was highlighted by back-to-back three pointers by Ryan Arcidiacono and Kris Jenkins. While it was Arcidiacono’s lone basket of the game, he would contribute in other areas. The junior guard shot 1-for-7 on the floor, but dished out nine assists with no turnovers and showed tremendous effort. He helped on the final play of the run, by beating two other VCU players to a loose ball as he dove for it. He then quickly tossed it to Hilliard, who dished it out to Josh Hart. Hart would finish through traffic, sinking the basket and getting the call. The sophomore would sink the free throw, capping off the 16-0 run.
The hot streak would be the decisive force in the game. The Wildcats rode the momentum all the way until the final buzzer sounded. VCU started to close down in the paint, but it simply opened up opportunities elsewhere. The fantastic ball movement continued into the second half, as they kicked it out to the perimeter for the open three pointer. Villanova was much better in the second half from beyond the arc, knocking down six out of 10 attempts. As their lead grew, VCU’s sense of urgency and panic increased along with it. The Rams began to take a more selfish approach, playing isolation “hero” ball instead of looking to move the ball around. Their patience was dwindling, as they forced up questionable shots. The game drifted further and further out of their reach. Villanova made a statement in their convincing 77-53 win.
The Wildcats outplayed the Rams in every facet of the game, shooting percentage, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks – you name it. As for wreaking havoc? Villanova’s defense had the edge in forced turnovers, 10-9.
JayVaughn Pinkston had a team-high 15 points while grabbing seven rebounds. Darrun Hilliard finished with 14 points, four rebounds, and four assists. Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart had productive performances off the bench. The two combined for 23 of 36 bench points. Jenkins had 13 points, including two three pointers. Hart chipped in 10 points and five rebounds.
For VCU, Briante Weber and Melvin Johnson each had 13 points in the loss. Mo Alie-Cox should have gotten more touches, the forward was effective in the paint. He shot 5-for-6 en route to a 10 point, four rebound game. Treveon Graham was a no-show. The Wildcats restricted him to just four points and two rebounds.
Villanova will play the winner of #19 Michigan and Oregon tomorrow night.